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17 Million Adoptions and Counting – Paw Nation Talks With Petfinder Co-founder Betsy Saul

As much as this thing we call the Internet has changed the lives of humans all over the planet, it’s had perhaps an even greater impact on another, slightly furrier species: shelter pets.

The Internet has connected millions upon millions of lonely shelter puppies and kitties with forever homes, facilitated a boom in pet fostering, and changed the way we look at adopting pets altogether. One of the adoption innovators responsible for this shelter pet revolution is none other than Petfinder co-founder Betsy Saul.

As part of our coverage of Petfinder’s Adopt the Internet Day (March 15), Paw Nation got the chance to chat with Saul about Petfinder’s humble beginnings, the joy of rescuing pets and the letters she gets about some of the 17 million animals that have been adopted through Petfinder.

Petfinder.com has been going strong since 1996. Can you give us a little history of how the whole Petfinder phenomenon came about?
When Jared Saul, my ex-husband, and I started Petfinder 15 years ago, we never dreamed it would be as powerful as it turned out to be. I remember hoping that we could save at least one life a month. And I remember fantasizing about being able to do it as a part-time job — and really give it the attention it deserved. This year we expect to help find families for 2.5 million pets and there is a whole team of people working full-time to make sure we meet our goal to end the euthanasia of adoptable pets.

We thought that if only people knew about the vast amount of love waiting in shelters — the loyal companions just waiting to be chosen and taken home — then we would increase adoptions and be able to stop killing pets simply for lack of a home. Nobody wanted to euthanize so many pets, but folks just weren’t going to the shelters to adopt and there was a seemingly endless tide of unwanted animals. When we started Petfinder in 1996, it is estimated that the U.S. was euthanizing more than 16 million pets in shelters. This year, that number will be less than 4 million — still too high, but amazing progress by the animal welfare community in 15 years. There are about 325,000 pets posted from more than 13,500 adoption organizations.

What was the goal of Petfinder in the early days? How did it change?
Our focus has always been on adoption and more support is needed for fostering and adoption. To try to muster enthusiasm for their plight, we’ve launched initiatives that keep everyone’s eye on homeless pets. From turtles and barnyard animals, to cats and dogs, we will continue to bring them into your living room, office, and iPhone. Even the more beleaguered get their own celebration, like Adopt-a-less-adoptable-pet Month in September.

These days, we’re not only about showcasing homeless pets. We also work to help make sure that once they are adopted, that family is their “furever” home. And that they really are a part of the family. How do we keep pets out of the shelters and in their homes? We’ve launched FurKeeps, a program that focuses on reducing the number of pets going into the shelters.

FurKeeps has three parts. We promote microchipping and registration of the microchips, so when pets get lost, we can help them find their way home. For this we’ve partnered with HomeAgain. We ask people to get pet health insurance, because no family member should be abandoned or euthanized because his pet parent can’t afford medical treatment. For insurance, we’ve partnered with PetFirst. Finally, we ask people to train their pets (yes, cats too!) with positive training techniques that feel like play and forge an unbreakable bond.

Do you have any tips for prospective pet parents to make the best adoption for their lifestyle?
Yes! Take stock of your lifestyle and be honest with yourself and the adoption group about how much time you want to devote to a new family member and how you want to spend that time. Do you want a running companion? Do you want a couch potato when you come home from work? (There’s no shame in that and a lot of pets who’d be happy to oblige.) Go to Petfinder.com and check out the Before You Adopt videos on the right side of the home page.

What’s your proudest achievement when it comes to PetFinder?
My favorite part of Petfinder are the e-mails that come in from happy adopters that say (and this is very, very common), “I thought I was going to the shelter to save a pet and it turned out that she was the one saving me.” Pets play such an important role in our lives. They greet us first when we walk in the door, they love us almost unconditionally, and they get us outside of ourselves — which is all very healthy. Pets actually make us healthier. I love it when we hear that one of our Petfinder pets changed someone’s life. Here was an animal that nobody wanted who has now shown us the power of friendship, love, companionship, and on and on. After 15 years, it still gives me goosebumps.

by Josh Loposer


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